Carolyn Cassady, who was born Carolyn Robinson in Lansing, Michigan on April, 28 1923 and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, is a figure with a place in American literature akin to Zelda Fitzgerald, in that she was the wife of Neal Cassady, erstwhile lover of Jack Kerouac, and friend of Allen Ginsberg, the seminal figures in Beat literature. Carolyn often appears as a character in Kerouac’s writing, which essentially was autobiographical and which often focused on her husband Neal, who was his best friend, “brother” and muse.
Carolyn Robinson was an unlikely consort of both men, having received a degree in theater arts from Bennington College. It was while matriculating at the University of Denver, where she was studying for a master’s degree, that she first met the three-years-younger Neal Cassady, in March of 1947. It was the time Neal had returned from his first visit to New York City, where he had met Kerouac and Ginsberg, the two men who would be linked with him for the rest of his life, and who would trigger a revolution in American “letters”.
When Neal Cassady met Carolyn Robinson, he was married to LuAnne Henderson. Neal married Carolyn in 1948 in the San Francisco Bay Area after he had his marriage to the underage LuAnne annulled. The couple had their first child, Cathleen, in September of that year.
By December 1948, Neal had bought a new car, driven to Denver to pick up ex-wife LuAnne, and then drove cross-country to pick up Kerouac in North Carolina. This was one of the many trips Neal and Kerouac took that would become immortalized in Kerouac’s “On The Road”, one of the great American novels.
Neal and Carolyn had two more children, a daughter Jami and a son John. The Cassadys lived in San Francisco, Watsonville and and Los Gatos, while Neal — and later Jack — worked for the Southern Pacific Railraod. Neal — who was a serial womanizer and bisexual who slept with Allen and other men (but not Jack) — encouraged Jack and Carolyn to have an affair, likely as it bound the three closer and also provided a diversion for Carolyn, who was faced with Neal’s multiple infidelities.
Carolyn and Neal became enamored of the mystic Edgar Cayce after Neal found a copy of Cayce’s “There Was A River” in a car at a parking lot in which he worked, Neal rad the book during his breaks, then introduced Cayce to Carolyn. This “conversion” dismayed the Buddhists Kerouac and Ginsberg, who tried to discouraged Neal. Both his friends considered Cayce to be an astrologer who peddled a bastardization of Eastern thought and spirituality. However, Neal and Carolyn were not discouraged, and she remained interested in Cayce for quite some time.
Carolyn eventually divorced Neal after he was released from San Quentin in 1960 after doing time for recklessly selling marijuana to an undercover policeman.
Neal Cassady eventually became an acolyte of the San Francisco astrologer Gavin Arthur, the grandson of President Chester A. Arthur, who Neal had met when he gave lectures at San Quentin while Neal was in stir. Gavin Arthur also would became a mentor to Carolyn, who would continue her interest in mysticism.
Jack Keroauc used to call Carolyn and keep in touch, but he died 18 months after Neal passed away from exposure — or just plain exhaustion from the pace of his frenetic life — on some railroad tracks in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in February 1968. Carolyn remained in contact with the Allen Ginsburg until his death in 1997.
Carolyn Cassady’s first memoir of her life appeared in 1976: “Heat Beat – My Life With Jack & Neal”, which was made into the 1978 film Heart Beat, in which she was portrayed by Sissy Spacek. She wrote two more memoirs: “Neal in San Quentin” (1989) and “Off The Road. My Life With Cassady, Kerouac And Ginsberg”.
Carolyn Cassady eventually moved to London, England where she now lives.